The Great Leadership Learning Matrix

“Everyone is an idiot, not just the people with low SAT scores. The only differences among us is that we’re idiots about different things at different times. No matter how smart you are, you spend much of your day being an idiot.”
– Scott Adams, The Dilbert Principle

I just created this learning and development model based on 20-plus years of training, coaching, and mentoring others. Just about anybody I could think of, including myself, would fall into one of these four quadrants:

Here’s a summary of each type of learner:

1. The Ostrich
Doesn’t know a lot and doesn’t really give a damn about it. That’s not always a bad thing. For example, I don’t know a lot about art history and I really don’t care to learn about it. However, for a manager, being unskilled in leadership and not wanting do do anything about it is a recipe for failure. These managers are often stuck in their own comfort zone, over rely on a few key strengths  and will justify their behavior by saying things like “hey, that’s just the way I am”.
They won’t seek out feedback, ignore it if they get it, and are seen as unwilling or unable to adapt.
Being “retired on the job” isn’t about age – I’ve seen it happen to as many younger managers as older ones.
These are often the managers who “get sent” to leadership training or have a coach forced upon them. Without a willingness to learn, the chances for behavior change are slim.

2. The Eager Beaver
Eager beavers are often new in their roles or are in a situation where they need to learn something new in order to be successful. In other words, their jobs depend on it.
I love working with new supervisors – they just soak up anything you offer them. The problem is, they sometimes are a little too eager, and try to take on too many new skills at once. They can come across as not genuine, lack consistency, and are prone to lose their confidence. They can also be gullible – being an easy target for the latest fads or silver bullets promising to make them great leaders in 10 easy steps.
Eager beavers need to take it one step at a time, and prioritize their learning and development goals around the critical few that will having the biggest and most immediate return-on-investment.

3. The Know-it-all
Unlike the ostrich, know-it-alls really do have a lot of talent or expertise around the subject (in this case, leadership and management). However, they can come across as  arrogant, presumptuousness, close-minded, and judgmental. They also may be very successful in their current role, but struggle with transitioning to new roles, given their unwillingness to let go of old skills and pick up new ones.

4. The Continuous Learner
Continuous learners are always looking to improve, no matter how good they are. In sports, they’re the Tom Bradys, the Peyton Mannings – superstar all-pros, but always the last ones off the practice field and putting in  overtime studying film of their next opponent. They are the David Bowies, the Madonnas of rock and roll, always looking to stay current and relevant, and knowing when it’s time to reinvent themselves.
Continuous learner leaders seem to be naturally curious and outstanding listeners. They are not faking it – they really do feel that they can learn something from everyone. They are not afraid to admit their weaknesses, and openly share their development plans to address those weaknesses. They are always seeking feedback, and seem to know how to take that feedback and adapt their behavior accordingly.

So what do you think of the model? As a coach, trainer, or manager, do you recognize your clients, students,  or employees?

More importantly – can you recognize yourself, and catch yourself if you’re in a quadrant that you shouldn’t be in for the situation?

Comments on the model are welcome!